Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Conte Cruel

A type of story named for Villiers de L'Isle-Adam's classic collection Contes cruels (coll 1883 France; trans Hamish Miles as Sardonic Tales 1927), although the author acknowledged the crucial influence of Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories – as translated by Charles Baudelaire – were extraordinarily influential in 19th-century France. Some critics use the label to refer only to nonsupernatural stories, especially those which have nasty climactic twists, but Villiers' collection mixed fantasies and nonfantasies, and the kinds of fantasy story that draw uniquely sharp attention to the relentless cruelties of Fate may be conveniently discussed under this rubric. Writers heavily influenced by Villiers who became prolific producers of such tales include Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) and Maurice Level (1875-1926), but many other writers associated with Decadence produced similar items. Frequently these writers also produced fabular contes which sarcastically mocked the moralizing tendency of contes written for children by calculated perversions of conventional moral order, and the tradition of fantastic CCs owes something to these as well as to Poe's tales of the grotesque and arabesque. The CC was re-imported into the USA by courtesy of Ambrose Bierce and other "Bohemian" writers; a significant exemplary collection is W C Morrow's The Ape, the Idiot and Other People (coll 1897). Many short stories on the borderline between fantasy and Horror – like those of Saki – invite consideration under this heading. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.